February 25, 2013
Here’s a new thread, similar concept to my previous two on the Great War. Whilst browsing online, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of paintings depicting the attack on Pearl Harbour. Here is a chronology of the attack as depicted by artists such as Tom Freeman, Robert Taylor, Jack Fellows, Craig Kodera, Richard Taylor, Stan Stokes, Brian Bateman, Roy Grinnell, James Dietz and Jim Laurier.
* In Memory of artist Tom Freeman (1952 – 2015)
February 25, 2013
‘Kido Butai’ by artist – ?
On November 26th, 1941, a fleet of Imperial Navy warships departed the inland sea at Kure, Japan under conditions of great secrecy. The flotilla was the First Air Fleet (Kido Butai), comprised of 31 vessels, sailing in an easterly direction across the waters of the northern Pacific. The fleet kept to the north, avoiding the US military bases at Midway atoll, Wake & Guam.
Their destination was the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian chain where the US Pacific Naval Fleet was stationed at its base at Pearl Harbour along with numerous units of the US Army and Marine Corps.
On December 2nd, six days after leaving Japan, the fleet’s commander Admiral Nagumo, received a coded message from his nation’s government. The Japanese War Cabinet had finalised their decision to go to war and had officially authorised the attack on Pearl Harbour.
The following day, the fleet turned directly south, steaming towards Hawaii. The fleet was comprised of six Aircraft Carriers, two Battleships, two Heavy Cruisers, one Light Cruiser, 13 Destroyers and eight Oilers (converted Merchant vessels). The 11-day voyage necessitated two refuelling stops en route and the emptied oilers were despatched back to Japan, taking two of the destroyers with them as escort. Two more of the destroyers were detached from the fleet and ordered to head to the island of Midway in order to bombard the US military bases there.
Kido Butai carried a total of approximately (estimates vary) 426 aircraft (411 on board the six carriers and 15 reconnaissance seaplanes on the battleships and cruisers). The highly trained aviators of the Japanese Imperial Naval Air-Force were tensely awaiting the fateful day when they would launch the attack on the US Pacific Fleet and plunge their nation into total war.
The popular version of events tells of masterly, prolonged and highly precise planning and preparations for the pivotal operation. But the plainer truth was that much of the planning was rushed, sometimes haphazard and even confused. There had been much debate and disagreement amongst senior officers regarding the plan. Resources had been short (some of the carriers had not received their deliveries of torpedoes and armour-piercing bombs until the very last evening before the fleet had set sail). Aircraft and even aircrew were in such short supply, a number of both had been transferred from the air units on the smaller Japanese carriers. There had been few aerial training exercises using a combination of the various air units, partially due to a shortage of fuel. The aircrew on board the two newest carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku of the 5th Carrier Division had performed so poorly during initial rehearsals that it had been proposed to leave those ships behind. This decision was reversed when Rear-Admiral Chuichi, in charge of that carrier division, threatened to physically assault Nagumo at a meeting if his ships were not allowed to participate.
Nonetheless, the fleet managed to cross the vast stretch of the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii in an 11-day voyage without being detected. A combination of sheer good luck and audacious planning on the part of the Japanese along with poor communication and reconnaissance, under-use of intelligence and complacency and denial on the part of the US forces resulted in Kido Butai reaching their launching point on the morning of December 7th 1941 with the US still totally unaware of their presence.
February 25, 2013
‘IJN Akagi’ by Tom Freeman
The Imperial Japanese Naval Aircraft-Carrier Akagi was the flagship of Admiral Nagumo’s strike force.
The vessel was originally intended to be a Battle-Cruiser when construction commenced in 1920 but this was halted two years later when Japan signed the Washington Naval Treaty which restricted the numbers of battleships and heavy cruisers which her naval forces were allowed to operate. However the treaty allowed the construction of two large carriers and the decision was made to convert the unfinished hull to a fast carrier, a process which began in 1923. The Akagi (‘Red Castle’) entered operational service in 1927.
In 1935, the carrier underwent an extensive refit which modernised the vessel, a process which including extending the interior hangar space and lengthening the flight deck. She re-entered service with the Combined Fleet in 1938 and the Akagi first saw action when her air group supported Japanese forces in China in 1939-1940.
In April 1941, the Imperial Navy, acting on the theory of mass concentration of firepower and resources, combined all of their fast carrier divisions into a single entity- the First Air Fleet (Kido Butai), a revolutionary concept at the time. The Akagi’s airmen were highly trained and rigidly disciplined, both physically and mentally and drawn from the nation’s elite young men (up until the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese naval academy only produced ninety new graduate pilots each year).
The well-drilled crews of the Japanese carriers could get air groups airborne in half the time it took Allied carriers to complete launchings. The First Air Fleet’s new standard fighter, the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, was nimble, highly manoeuvrable and had a longer range and faster rate of climb than any other fighter in the world in 1941. And the fleet’s dive-bomber and torpedo pilots were amongst the most skilled in any navy.
Yet there were serious weaknesses. As US historian Mark Peattie wrote, the First Air Fleet had ‘a glass jaw. It could throw a punch but it couldn’t take one’. The Akagi, like all of her sister carriers, had in-sufficient anti-aircraft weaponry, poor fire-fighting and damage-control systems, in-adequate early warning systems (including lack of radar) and poor radio communication with airborne aircraft. With a romantic belief in the idea that ‘quality would always triumph over quantity’, the Kido Butai usually allocated too few fighter aircraft to fleet defence whilst standard doctrine demanded that the escorting destroyers and cruisers were to give priority to protecting the battleships against enemy submarines rather than co-ordinating their anti-aircraft batteries to protect the carriers against enemy air attack.
These strengths and weaknesses would have a profound influence on both the conduct of the first six months of the Pacific War and the ultimate fate of the First Air Fleet.
The Akagi remained the flagship of the Kido Butai for the next six months as the fleet roamed the Pacific striking at Allied bases including Darwin, Australia in February 1942 and Ceylon in April. During the latter operation, the Akagi was attacked by a small group of British Blenheim bombers and narrowly escaped damage.
On June 4th 1942, the Akagi led the Japanese operation at Midway Atoll, an attack intended to lure the US carrier fleet into a decisive battle. The battle proved a disaster with all four of the carriers committed to the operation lost in a single day. Having survived attacks by numerous bombers from both Midway and the US carriers, Akagi received her mortal wounds when, attacked by three SBD dive-bombers from the USS Enterprise, she received a single direct hit by a 1,000Ib-bomb dropped by Lt-Commander Richard Best. Engulfed in flames, the carrier was eventually abandoned and scuttled in the early hours of June 5th with the loss of 267 of her crew.
February 25, 2013
‘Scouting Mission over Oahu’ by Tom Freeman
In the early hours of December 7th (December 8th-Japanese time), the heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma each launched a reconnaissance seaplane, the Aichi E13A (later dubbed ‘Jake’ by the Allies). The two aircraft flew to Oahu and scouted the island from high altitude. The mission was intended to see if the US forces showed any signs of being alert or fore-warned of the attack and if there were any US aircraft carriers moored in Pearl Harbour.
The mission has been criticised by historians as being both unnecessary and risky. The Japanese already had accurate intelligence of the situation at Pearl Harbour thanks to scouting by submarines and by Japanese agents on Oahu so the mission told Admiral Nagumo nothing he didn’t already know. More seriously, if either of the two aircraft had been detected by the Americans, the entire operation could have lost its vital element of surprise.
February 25, 2013
‘Kido Butai’ by Marii Chernev
At 0600hrs on December 7th, the carriers of Kido Butai commenced launching the first wave of the attack in blustery conditions. Leading the attack was Commander Mitsuo Fuchida who would be flying as an observer in a Nakajima B5N ‘Kate’ bomber which launched from the flagship Akagi.
‘Commander Fuchida prepares to launch’ by Tom Freeman
Born in 1902 in Nara Prefecture, Japan, Fuchida entered the Imperial Naval Academy in Hiroshima in 1921. Graduating in 1924, Fuchida served as an airmen, achieving the rank of Lieutenant by 1930. Assigned to the aircraft carrier Kaga in 1929, Fuchida worked as an instructor in level-bombing and he saw action in the war in China in 1937.
Transferred to the Akagi in 1939, Fuchida was given command of that ship’s air group. Despite his relative youth, Fuchida had impressed his superiors with his energy, determination and innovative thinking from the beginning of his career. He readily embraced the new theories and concepts of naval-borne airpower and railed in frustration at the older officers who still devotedly clung to the outmoded ‘battleship school’ tactics.
Leading the first wave against Pearl Harbour, Fuchida remained in orbit above Oahu to observe the second-wave attack. He made hand-written notes and diagrams whilst he carefully observed the damage before flying back to Akagi to make his report.
After the operation, Fuchida was hailed as a national hero in Japan and he was invited to a personal audience with the Emperor.
Fuchida remained as air commander with the First Air Fleet, personally leading the devastating air attacks on Darwin, Australia in February 1942 and on Ceylon the following April. Shortly after the Kido Butai set sail for its operation to engage the US carrier fleet at Midway Atoll in June 1942, Fuchida unexpectedly became severely ill with appendicitis which prevented him from taking part in the subsequent battle. When the Akagi was fatally damaged by US dive-bombers, Fuchida was forced to evacuate the ship.
‘Nakajima B5N Bomber (Pearl Harbour)’ by artist- ?
The above illustration featured as the box-art for a Japanese manufacturer’s plastic model kit of the B5N in the 1970s. The particular B5N is Fuchida’s aircraft.
Fuchida spent the remainder of the war as a staff officer and he witnessed the declining fortunes of his nation as the war progressed. In August 1945 he was in Hiroshima, attending an officer’s conference when he was un-expectedly ordered to return to Tokyo that evening. The very next day, Hiroshima was struck by the atomic bomb. Fuchida was one of a party of officers who were sent into the smouldering ruins to assess the damage. All of the group, except Fuchida, later died of radiation sickness. After the end of the war, Fuchida became fascinated with Christianity, in particular with a pamphlet written by an American ex-POW who professed to both love and forgive his former enemies. He became a devout Christian in 1949 and he believed his survival of Hiroshima was due to divine intervention.
Fuchida wrote several books about his experiences which were widely read and his accounts of both the Pearl Harbour and Midway operations were used as source material by numerous western historians for a number of decades. However, more recently historians have asserted that Fuchida falsified or embellished some of his accounts including his claim that he was board the US Battleship Missouri to witness the formal signing of the Japanese surrender in 1945 (which has been proven to be not true). Likewise his version of events on board the Akagi after the attack on Pearl Harbour in which he claimed to have pressed for a third wave to be sent (another claim since rebuked by leading historians).
Fuchida died in Japan in 1976.
February 25, 2013
‘Day of the Rising Sun’ by Richard Taylor
At 0600hrs, the six carriers of Kido Butai began launching the first wave of the aerial assault against Pearl Harbour. At the very start of the operation, the weather came close to bringing the entire plan undone. Conditions worsened during the early morning and by the scheduled launch-time, the carriers were pitching and heaving in heavy, blustery seas with waves breaking over the flight-decks. If it had been a rehearsal, the launchings would have been cancelled but after months of preparation, the Japanese were not going to pull out now. Admiral Nagumo gave the order to commence launching as planned.
The carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku turned into the wind and began sending their aircraft aloft in quick succession. As the first aircraft took off, they climbed to assigned heights and positions and orbited whilst the rest of the first wave was launched before assembling into squadron formations for the flight to Oahu.
The six carriers combined possessed an estimated total strength of 411 aircraft. Of this total, 360 were detailed to take part in the attack and the remaining 51 were retained for anti-submarine and combat air patrols over the fleet in case of enemy attack. In addition, the two battleships Hiei and Kirishima each launched a pair of seaplanes to fly reconnaissance flights north of Oahu to detect any enemy naval forces.
189 aircraft were allocated to the first wave. Six planes failed to launch due to various malfunctions such as engine trouble or burst tyres but the remaining 183 successfully got airborne. The formation comprised 49 Nakajima Type 97 B5N level bombers and another 40 B5Ns armed with torpedoes, 51 Aichi Type 99 D3A1 dive-bombers and 43 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters.
Forming into their squadrons, the first wave headed south towards Oahu. As they flew into the chilly dawn, the fliers were treated to a pleasant sun-rise, beams of light slicing through the cloudscapes. Fuchida and his aircrews thrilled at the sight which resembled the Rising Sun emblem on their national flag. It seemed a good omen. Fuchida tuned his aircraft’s wireless into Oahu’s radio waves as they drew nearer to the target. By an ironic coincidence, Honolulu radio was playing a Japanese song.
When the first wave was 250km from Oahu, it was detected by a radar post located on Oahu’s northern tip. The operator, Private George Eliot, telephoned his operations commander, Lieutenant Kermit Tyler to inform him of the large blip on the radar screen. Tyler informed Eliot that there was no threat. Tyler assumed the contact was a scheduled flight of US Army B-17 bombers flying in from the US mainland that was due that morning. He couldn’t tell Eliot about the B-17s for security reasons whilst the latter neglected to mention to Tyler how unusually large the blip was. The warning went unheeded.
February 25, 2013
‘The Calm before the Storm’ by Robert Taylor
The USS Arizona (BB-39) was a Pennsylvania–Class Battleship commissioned in 1916. Assigned to the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet in the early 1920s, she spent much of that decade performing naval exercises before undergoing a major modernisation in 1929. After the refit was completed in 1931, the ship had four 14-inch guns, twelve 5-inch guns and eight 5-inch AA weapons with a top speed of just over 20 knots and weighing in at over 38,000 tonnes. The Arizona spent the 1930s performing mostly training exercises, public ceremonies and uneventful patrols. The ship had a largely peaceful career. She assisted in evacuating US refugees during the 1920 Turkey crisis and gave aid to victims of the California earthquake in 1933 but never had the opportunity to fire her weapons in anger.
In 1934, the Arizona was used as a film-set in the production of the James Cagney feature Here Comes the Navy. Later that same year, she collided with a fishing trawler, an incident which saw the Arizona’s Captain dismissed for negligence. The ship spent most of the next five years moored in port as a cost-saving measure due to budget constraints on the Navy.
As political relations with Japan grew ever more tense, the Arizona and her sister battleships of the Pacific Fleet remained stationed in Hawaii in 1940-41. On the evening of December 4th 1941, she and two other battleships performed a night-firing exercise near Hawaii before returning to Pearl Harbour the following day. It was to be the last time the Arizona would put to sea.
February 25, 2013
‘The Last Mooring’ by Tom Freeman
Oahu served as the main Pacific base for the United States Military and at its centre was Pearl Harbour, west of Honolulu, a large shallow water harbour which had served as a US naval base since 1899.
On the Sunday morning of December 7th 1941, there were 99 US warships moored in the harbour. This included eight Battleships, seven of which were moored in ‘Battleship Row’ alongside Ford Island which was located in the harbour centre. In addition, there were two Heavy Cruisers, six Light Cruisers and 29 Destroyers along with four Submarines, a Minelayer, ten Minesweepers, eight Destroyer-Minelayers, four Destroyer-Minesweepers, six Seaplane Tenders and 23 other vessels (mostly supply, repair and auxiliary ships). Three more warships, namely the Destroyer USS Ward and two Minesweepers were on routine patrol near the Channel entrance to the harbour.
Over two thirds of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet were moored in Pearl Harbour on the morning of December 7th. However amongst the exceptions were the US Aircraft Carriers, two of which were at sea, namely the USS Lexington which was en route to Midway Island and the USS Enterprise which was returning from a ferry mission to Wake Island. A third carrier, the ageing USS Saratoga, was undergoing repairs in dry-dock on the US west coast. The Enterprise had been due to reach Hawaii the previous evening but by a stroke of good fortune she and her escorts had been delayed by bad weather and was yet to arrive in Pearl Harbour. In addition to the absent carriers, some 44 other US warships were at sea or at other locations around the Pacific that morning. Nonetheless, the approaching Japanese aviators had plenty of targets to choose from.
There were seven air bases on Oahu, including Ford Island in the harbour centre, Hickam Field, located south of the harbour, Bellows Field on the eastern edge of the island and Wheeler Field, situated near the island’s centre. In addition there was the naval air base at Kaneohe, located on the peninsular north of Bellows, the Marine air base at Ewa, situated west of the harbour on the southern coast of Oahu and finally the small airfield at Haleiwa on the island’s northern coast.
In total, there were approximately 390 US military aircraft based on Oahu (again estimates vary) although this figure included a number of obsolete and non-airworthy planes.
With reference to the painting you titled ‘Launching the attack on Pearl Harbour’ by artist- ?
The artist is Marii Chernev. I found this image on another site which had a different title – IJN Akagi Imperial Rampage. The description states this image depicts Nakajima ‘Kate’ torpedo bombers launching against Allied shipping in raids against Port Darwin, Australia on 19 February 1942.
However, I think this image could very well also depict the Pearl Harbor raid and probably represents such a scene quite accurately too, as I don’t think the ship and aircraft’s markings would have changed much in 3 months.
The following users say thank you to eHangar for this useful post:pete hill (formerly Bunter)
February 25, 2013
February 25, 2013
‘USS Ward’ by Tom Freeman
In the very early hours of December 7th, five Japanese submarines operating about 20km off the southern coast of Oahu each launched a Type A midget submarine. The midget subs, each crewed by two men and each carrying two torpedoes, were ordered to penetrate Pearl Harbour and attack US vessels in an assault timed to coincide with the air attacks.
This part of the operation was to prove an abject failure. Shortly before 4.00am, a US Minesweeper spotted a periscope in the water south of the harbour entrance and relayed a signal to the Destroyer USS Ward which was on routine patrol. The latter, her crew placed on alert, patrolled the waters near the mouth of the harbour for the next two hours. At 0637hrs, she sighted a periscope trailing a US cargo vessel entering the harbour.
The Ward’s Captain, Lt-Commander William Outerbridge, sounded action stations and ordered his vessel to attack. The destroyer shelled the submarine and then, after the latter was seen to submerge, carried out a depth-charge attack. The Ward’s attack, the very first American shots of the Pacific War, was credited with destroying the midget sub. In 2002, the wreck of the submarine was located and examinations revealed that its’ hull had been fatally holed by two shells from the destroyer.
The Ward promptly signalled Pearl Harbour about the incident but communications delays meant that by the time the message reached senior authorities, it was virtually too late.
The other four midget submarines attempted to carry out their attack. One, experiencing steering problems, ran aground in shallow waters near the harbor entrance. It managed to free itself but, evidently too damaged to make its attack, limped to Oahu’s south-eastern shoreline and stuck fast again. One crewman drowned but the other man, Ensign Sakamaki Kazuo, was washed ashore unconscious and captured by soldiers from nearby Bellows airfield. He became the only Japanese POW of the entire attack and indeed the first to be captured by the Americans in the Pacific War. Although popularly portrayed as a calm and moderate figure, Admiral Yamamoto is reported to have exploded into a fiery fit of rage when informed that one of his men had disgraced both himself and his nation by allowing himself to be taken alive by the enemy. The scuttling charges on Kazuo’s submarine failed to detonate and the midget sub was captured intact by the Americans. After a morale-boosting tour of the US, the captured trophy was later preserved in a museum. After the attack, an official Japanese artist painted a tribute canvas which included individual portraits of the nine submariners who perished. Kazuo was deliberately omitted from the painting.
The three remaining midget subs entered the harbour. One of them fired both its warheads at two vessels between 0830 and 0900- the Submarine Tender Curtiss and the Destroyer Monaghan but both missed. The sub was then sunk by the Monaghan.
Another sub was damaged by depth charges before it could fire its torpedoes and abandoned by its crew (both of whom died). The last midget sub went missing and its wreckage was not discovered until 1992. Its warheads were not found and on Dec 7th the Cruiser St Louis had reported that it was fired upon by two torpedoes just after 1000hrs (both projectiles missed).
Several historians have recently claimed to have uncovered evidence that the last sub, prior to its destruction, actually successfully torpedoed one of the Battleships alongside Ford Island but this theory remains controversial. One piece of evidence which backs the claim is that the Japanese fleet recorded a signal from one of the midget subs late in the afternoon of December 7th, the crew claiming to have torpedoed an enemy Battleship but the issue remains a subject of fierce debate amongst historians.
The USS Ward, a Wickes-Class Destroyer, had been commissioned in 1918. She had only served in the US Navy for three years when, as funding was stripped from much of the US armed forces, she was decommissioned and mothballed in 1921. When the Second World War began in 1939, she was recalled to service and re-commissioned in early 1941.
After Pearl Harbour, Ward was placed in dry-dock on the US mainland and converted into a Fast Transport. In 1943-1944, she served as a transport, escort and support vessel for a number of amphibious landings in the south-west Pacific. On 7th December 1944, exactly three years to the day after Pearl Harbour, the Ward was supporting the amphibious landings at Ormoc Bay at Leyte when she was attacked by Japanese Kamikaze aircraft one of which struck her hull amidships. Engulfed by uncontrollable fires, the ship was abandoned and orders were given to put the Ward out of her misery, a deed performed by the Destroyer O’Brien which sank the crippled veteran with gunfire. Ironically, the O’Brien’s Captain was William Outerbridge, formerly of the Ward.
Alan Sanford, the last surviving member of the Ward’s gun crew that sank the midget submarine on the morning of December 7th passed away in January 2015.
February 25, 2013
‘Nakajima B5Ns of the First Wave’ by Tom Freeman
The first wave of Japanese aircraft reached the northern coast of Oahu at 0740hrs, forty minutes after the US radar had detected the approaching force and a similar amount of time after the USS Ward had signalled headquarters on Pearl that it had sunk an enemy submarine. Once over Kahuku Point on Oahu’s northern tip, the first wave split up as each squadron proceeded to its assigned target.
Eleven fighters proceeded to the Naval air-base at Kaneohe on the eastern side of the island whilst 39 dive-bombers and fighters headed for Wheeler Field in Oahu’s centre. The remainder, 40 torpedo planes, 49 level bombers, 26 dive-bombers and 18 fighters headed south towards Pearl Harbour itself. The slower B5Ns flew along the island’s western coastline, skimming the outer edge of the Wqinae mountains whilst the faster dive-bombers and fighters flew down the island’s narrow valley in the centre, along the murky base of the Koolau Range.
Tom Freeman’s painting above depicts Nakajima B5N Type 97s of the Akagi of the 12-plane torpedo force that carrier launched that morning, crossing the northern coast of Oahu. The aircraft nearest the viewer- AI-311- was flown by Lt-Commander Shigeharu Murata who was commander of his carrier’s torpedo squadron and was overall leader of the entire 40-aircraft torpedo component of the first wave. The aircraft behind him- AI-313- was flown by his wingman Pilot First Class Fujuki Murakami.
February 25, 2013
‘Kaneohe Air Base’ by Tom Freeman
At 0748hrs, the first aircraft of the Japanese force made their attack when eleven Zero fighters from the IJN carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku attacked the naval air base at Kaneohe. Although their brother fliers in the other carrier divisions tended to belittle and make fun of the less experienced aviators on these two younger flat-tops, the fighter pilots were determined to give a good account of themselves.
On this quiet Sunday morning, those navy personnel on the base who were out of bed were mildly curious to see the approaching specks from the north-west. With so many aircraft stationed on Oahu, formations of planes flying overhead were nothing un-usual. As the approaching, un-identified fighters descended and began to approach the base at high speed, there was still no alarm. Cocky Army or Marine pilots often ‘beat up’ the base at low-level just to show off or to break the monotony of routine patrols and training exercises. It was only when the first of the approaching fighters suddenly opened fire that the men on the base realised with horror that this was an actual attack and that these aircraft were not American. The Zero fighters swept in, some of them flying dangerously low to the extent that their aircraft’s belly tanks nearly scraped the tarmac, shooting at the parked aircraft.
Kaneohe naval air station was home to three squadrons of PBY Catalina flying boats, a total of 36 aircraft. Three were absent on routine patrols that morning, leaving 33 of the big ‘Cats’ at the base, either parked inside hangars, on launching ramps or moored in the shallows near the shoreline. By the time the Zeroes had completed their strafing runs, having achieved total surprise, over a dozen of the PBYs were burning wrecks. During the course of the morning, other groups of fighters would visit, later joined by dive-bombers from the second wave.
By the end of the attacks, 27 of the PBYs would be destroyed or written off and the remaining six all badly damaged. Kaneohe was the only one of the air bases to suffer 100% losses, effectively eliminating the bulk of the long-range aerial reconnaissance arm of the US Pacific Fleet.
February 25, 2013
‘Warriors of Kaneohe’ by Jim Laurier
As the attack on Kaneohe air base began, Chief Petty Officer John W Finn, who lived less than a mile away, was alerted by an urgent knock at the door by a neighbour who informed him that he was needed at the base right away. Finn drove to the hangars and was shocked to see many of the parked PBYs already engulfed in flames.
Finn spotted one of his men who had taken one of the .50-calibre Browning machine-guns from a parked PBY and was trying to use it. Finn took over from the less experienced man and found a portable tripod platform used in gunnery training and he mounted the .50 calibre on this. Several more groups of Japanese aircraft attacked the base and Finn and another man remained out in the open, firing at the attackers. His exposed position came under fire a number of times and he was also vulnerable to splinters and shrapnel from nearby explosions. By the time the attacks ceased around 0930hrs, Finn had been injured no less than 21 times, including a bullet in his right foot and a shrapnel wound in his left shoulder which left his left arm numb. Despite his wounds, he remained on duty until the next day, helping to arm and refuel the few surviving aircraft at the base.
For his courage, Finn was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour in September 1942. He was promoted to Ensign that same year. After the war, he served on board the carrier USS Hancock. John Finn retired from the US Navy in 1956. He and his wife owned a ranch in California and they adopted five Native American children. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 100.
January 24, 2007
February 25, 2013
‘The Attack on Pearl Harbour Begins’ by Stu Shepherd
At 0755 the main part of the first wave strike force arrived over Pearl Harbour. Commander Fuchida, riding in one of the Akagi’s B5N high-level bombers, scanned the skies above the harbour and then made a quick examination of the harbour and surrounding area itself.
Apart from a few civilian light aeroplanes, there were no US aircraft patrolling the skies above the harbour. The warships arrayed below appeared to be all still moored and at rest. There was no anti-aircraft fire coming from the harbour or from the airfields on Ford Island and nearby Hickam Field and no aircraft were taxying or in the process of taking off.
The attack had achieved total surprise. Despite the warnings from their own radar, or from the destroyer USS Ward, or even from the last-minute urgent telephone calls from Kaneohe air-base which had been attacked seven minutes previously, the entire harbour was at rest.
Fuchida had pre-arranged a signal to send to the squadron-commanders in the first wave. If the defenders did not appear to be on alert and if there were no signs of any defences being prepared, Fuchida would fire a signal flare which meant ‘Surprise Achieved’. This meant the torpedo bombers, being the slowest and potentially the most vulnerable, would execute their attacks first whilst the dive-bombers, level bombers and fighters would hold off, thus giving their colleagues in the torpedo planes a clear run at their targets and the full advantage of complete surprise which would ensure virtually no resistance. The torpedo attack was timed to take only 90 seconds and once complete, the dive-bombers and high-level bombers would make their attacks.
If Fuchida saw signs that the Americans had been fore-warned and were on the alert such as US fighters being airborne, anti-aircraft fire and warships making steam, he was to fire two flares, a signal for ‘Surprise Lost’. If this was the case, the dive-bombers, high-level bombers and fighters were to attack first, attacking the airfields at Ford Island and Hickam, preventing enemy fighters from getting airborne and drawing away the AA fire from the harbour whilst the Japanese fighters were to fly ahead and engage any enemy fighters that were already airborne. With the enemy defences thus occupied, the torpedo planes would then attack.
‘Dawn of Infamy’ by Kevin Weber
Fuchida opened the canopy above his seat and held up his flare gun, firing the single flare to signal ‘Surprise Achieved’. He also sent a coded signal to the Akagi comprised of the single word ‘Tora’ (Tiger) which advised Admiral Nagumo that total surprise had been achieved. To ensure the signal reached his commanders, Fuchida sent the codeword twice more, creating the popular myth that the code signal was ‘Tora, Tora, Tora’.
The Strike Commander then noticed that the escorting Zero fighters were not moving into the assigned positions. Thinking that the fighter leader had not seen the flare, he reached up and fired another.
However the dive-bomber leader saw the second flare and, quite understandably, assumed that Fuchida had fired the two-flare signal for ‘Surprise Lost’. The mistake threw the attack plan into confusion as the dive-bombers and fighters, believing that the Americans were on the alert, began their attack immediately whilst the torpedo plane crews, thinking that Fuchida had signalled ‘Surprise Achieved’ also commenced their attack runs.
Fuchida later commented to US historian Gordon Prange that when he had realised what was happening, he had ‘ground his teeth in rage’. However he is said to have then shrugged and said ‘it made no difference in the end’. Likewise, many historians of the day’s events have tended to write the mistake off as a minor mishap that had no effect on the eventual outcome.
But more recently, US historian Alan D Zimm, in a critical examination of the attack, has pointed out that the error considerably reduced the effectiveness of the first wave’s assault. The hurried approach of the dive-bombers meant that they did not achieve the correct altitude to make their dive-bombing attacks and instead performed shallower bomb-runs which were less accurate. And as the dive-bombers struck Ford and Hickam airfields first, the noise of the attacks alerted the crews on the warships, sending men rushing to man the anti-aircraft guns. This resulted in the torpedo crews having to make their attack runs through AA fire which steadily grew more intense as time progressed. This disrupted the attack, as the torpedo pilots, obliged to fly straight and steady at low level in order to ensure accurate drops of their warheads, made for easy targets for the AA crews. The hurried approach also meant that some of the torpedo pilots were confused, misidentifying some of the warships such as the old retired Battleship USS Utah which was serving as a Target Ship for gunnery practice. Six of the B5N pilots mistook her for one of the operational Battleships and fired their ordnance at her, sinking it with two hits. The ageing Minelayer USS Oglala was also misidentified as a Battleship and was attacked by five B5Ns, hitting her with one torpedo. In the heat of the moment, two B5Ns nearly collided, forcing one pilot to jettison his warhead.
The carrier Kaga’s section of B5Ns was the last torpedo group to attack. The confusion had dragged the torpedo attack, originally intended to take only 90 seconds, out to a full 11 minutes. By the time, the twelve B5Ns from the Kaga made their attack runs, the AA batteries on the US warships were operating in full swing and five of the attackers were shot down. Many of the other torpedo planes were damaged and although all of the remaining 35 managed to return to their respective carriers, 11 were written off due to battle damage. Of the forty torpedoes, 19 had scored hits- a ratio considerably less than had been achieved during training exercises.
Both paintings above depict the Nakajima B5N no AI-301 which was the aircraft in which Fuchida flew as an observer and from which he led, co-ordinated and observed the attack.
February 25, 2013
‘Pearl Harbour 0755: While the Giant Slept’ by Dru Blair
The Naval air station on Ford Island was the US Navy’s main airfield on Oahu, located in its prime location in the centre of the harbour. There were over 80 aircraft on the large airbase which dominated the small island, mostly seaplanes including some belonging to the battleships and cruisers moored nearby.
At 0755 the attack on Pearl Harbour began when Lt-Commander Kakuichi Takahashi of the IJN carrier Shokaku, leading the Aichi D3A1 Type 99 dive-bombers of the first wave, dived on Ford Island’s naval air base. Aiming at Hangar No 6 located on the south-eastern tip of Ford, Takahashi’s bomb dropped short, landing just off the shore near the large building. Having mis-read Commander Fuchida’s signal, Takahashi had ordered his men to attack immediately rather than climbing to a higher altitude. Had he done the latter, he and his pilots would have been able to perform steeper (and more accurate) bomb-dives.
Blair’s painting shows Takahashi’s D3A, numbered EI-238, diving on Ford Island and its surrounding rows of moored warships, still serenely untouched in the final few moments before the attack.
The dive-bombers following hard on the heels of Takahashi’s plane had better success. By the end of the attack, 33 aircraft on Ford Island were destroyed or damaged beyond repair, including 19 out of the island’s 35 PBY flying boats.
At 0758, three minutes after Takahashi’s bomb fell, a senior officer in Ford’s headquarters building sent an urgent signal to all commands across Oahu, a signal which became the most famous message of the day:-
‘Air Raid Pearl Harbour. This is Not a Drill’.
February 25, 2013
February 25, 2013
‘First Wave Attacks Hickam Field’ by Tom Freeman
As the first bombs fell on Ford Island, the Army air-base at Hickam Field, located south of the main harbour and on the eastern side of the harbour mouth, came under attack.
There were some 68 aircraft of the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) stationed on Hickam, including 12 Boeing B-17D heavy bombers, 13 of the new Douglas A-20 Havoc medium bombers, 33 obsolete Douglas B-18 ‘Bolo’ bombers (the standard US bomber of the late 1930s), seven equally obsolete Curtiss A-12 light bombers along with a brand-new prototype of the Consolidated B-24 and a pair of Douglas DC-2 transports.
Zero fighters swept in low over the base, strafing the buildings, vehicles, parked aircraft and the startled men caught out in the open. Like their naval counterparts at Kaneohe and Ford Island air-bases, the USAAC personal at Hickam were caught totally by surprise. At high altitude above, orderly formations of B5N level bombers dropped their ordnance, bombs exploding around the base.
The large recently constructed consolidated barracks, where most of Hickam’s aircrews were billeted, proved a tempting target and suffered several bomb hits and numerous strafing attacks with many of the men still inside, having had barely any time to even comprehend what was happening. As a result, of all Oahu’s airfields that were attacked, Hickam suffered the worst human casualties- 158 men killed (including 37 listed as ‘missing’) and 274 wounded. A group of over 20 men assembled to hear instructions from a Sergeant only for a bomb to land nearby, killing all but four of them. The aircrews of the 50th Reconnaissance Squadron suffered heavy losses when they strafed by Zero fighters as they fled across the open tarmac after their unit’s hangar was hit. One man was seen looting the post-exchange after it had been damaged and the thief attempted to run for cover carrying a case of beer and cartons of cigarettes only to be felled by machine-gun fire from a low-flying Zero. Many on the base heard the dying screams of a brave airman who climbed inside a parked B-18 and attempted to use the machine-gun in the nose turret only to be burned alive when the aircraft caught fire.
Nineteen of Hickam’s aircraft were left destroyed by the end of the attacks with another 19 damaged, leaving only 30 of the planes still flyable (and over half of those were obsolete Bolos or A-12s).
At least one Japanese aircraft also strafed nearby John Rodgers airport, a civilian facility located a short distance south-east of Hickam, killing one man and damaging an Hawaiian Airlines DC-3. Six light aircraft from John Rodgers airport were airborne at the time the attack on Pearl Harbour began, all of them belonging to flying schools and two of them, both small Piper Cubs painted bright yellow, were shot down by Zero fighters, both aircraft crashing into the sea near the harbour entrance. The three men on board, all of them soldiers of the California National Guard who were earning their pilots licences, were killed.
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